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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

AccessNote Quick Start Guide

AccessNote has been updated to version 1.3! Be sure to update AccessNote on your device through through the App Store. Note that QWERTY keystrokes now use the Command key instead of the Option key

Table of Contents


Thank you for purchasing AccessNote from the American Foundation for the Blind. AccessNote is the first notetaker for the iOS platform designed particularly for VoiceOver users looking for a highly efficient, feature-rich note taking experience. In addition to being a low cost alternative to traditional note takers, AccessNote will allow users to combine efficient note taking with the countless other features and functions of iOS devices. This will allow blind and visually impaired people in classroom or business settings to use the same popular iOS devices that their sighted peers are using.

Some of the valuable features in AccessNote include:

  • Keyboard commands customized for input with both QWERTY and refreshable braille display keyboards, not available in any other app.
  • Two powerful search features for finding text globally across all notes and within a note.
  • Cursor tracking that always keeps your place when you return to a note.
  • Keystroke efficiency — Less keystrokes to get the job done.
  • Fast and efficient navigation throughout a note by page, paragraph, line, word, character, and other elements.

General Information

AccessNote is designed to be used with VoiceOver along with a wireless Bluetooth QWERTY or refreshable Braille keyboard. Standard keyboard commands and gestures will work to control AccessNote, but AccessNote also has a handful of custom commands, which are listed at the bottom of this document. AccessNote currently creates and can import files in the .txt format, as well as display imported files in the .brf format. Other formats are being investigated for future versions of AccessNote. Notes can be imported via your DropBox account, and can also be imported to AccessNote directly from e-mail when attached to an incoming message.

AccessNote currently lists your notes in a single list of files, but a Favorites folder is also available. Files are listed in order of last edited, but can also be listed alphabetically.

AccessNote syncs with your DropBox account when enabled in the Settings menu. In addition to the standard mode for editing and reading documents, AccessNote also has a Review mode for reading files without worrying about changing them. In Review Mode, you can tilt the iOS device to the right or left to move to next or previous file. You can also use a three finger swipe left to go to your next note and a three finger swipe right to go to your previous note at any time while in a given note.

Description of Home Screen

AccessNote is designed with a clean, simple interface that uses standard iOS design techniques, so its layout will be familiar to iOS device users. The home screen is titled All Notes, which is the heading at the top of the screen. The next element is the "Add" button for adding a new note, followed by the "Sync" button for synchronizing your notes with your DropBox account. Next is the "Search" field for searching for text globally across all your notes, followed by your list of notes. The list of notes includes a table index for quickly scrolling through notes when you have notes set to display in alphabetical order. Finally, there are three buttons at the bottom of the home screen: "Settings," "Favorites," and "Help."

Through the Settings menu you will be able to change the font size, login and out of Dropbox, adjust the tilt sensitivity, toggle Spellcheck, disable or enable keystrokes, and change how your notes are ordered. When you mark notes as a favorite via the keyboard or braille command, it will show up in your favorites list. Through the help and How-to menu you will be able to access this User Guide as well as some helpful tutorials and some information about the app.

When you are in a note, the first item is a "Back" button to go back to the All Notes screen. Next is an "Action" button that was added in version 1.1 of AccessNote. The "Action" button brings up a menu of actions that will be detailed later in this guide. Next is a "Review" button for going into a read-only mode, followed by the text of the note itself.

This section describes keyboard commands for navigating and reading a note. Regardless of the mode you are using, AccessNote always keeps your place when you close a note, and you are back where you left off when you return to the note.
Note: The below commands always move the VoiceOver voice, but a couple do not move the cursor for editing text.

QWERTY Navigation

All the standard ways to control an iOS device with your wireless QWERTY keyboard will work with AccessNote. Here is a link to Apple's resource for using QWERTY keyboard commands.

We designed AccessNote to work with Apple's wireless QWERTY keyboard, but it will work with other wireless keyboards as long as they have the arrow keys and Control, Option, and Command keys found on Apple keyboards. AccessNote will not perform well with keyboards designed for Android phones.

When using an iOS device with a wireless QWERTY keyboard, you have the option of using what they call "Quick Nav." With Quick Nav on, pressing your keyboard's left and right arrows moves from element to element in an app, and is the same as swiping left or right on the iOS device's touch screen. You activate a button or open a note by pressing the up and down arrows simultaneously, and that is the same as double-tapping on the touch screen. Navigating through a note in AccessNote is different depending on whether Quick Nav is on or not, and you turn Quick Nav on or off by pressing the left and right arrows simultaneously.

With Quick Nav On, you use the arrow keys to control the VoiceOver rotor for navigation, and it allows you to move by character, word, or line. You also have the following controls for reading/navigating a document:

Control-Option-A: Read continuously from current position
Control-Down Arrow: Read entire note from beginning
Control: stop/start reading
Option up/Down: Move by page. (It actually moves by an iOS screen.)

With Quick Nav off, you have more options, including:
Left/Right Arrow: Move by character
Option left/right: Move by word
Up/Down: Move by line
Control Left/Right: Move to beginning or end of line
Control Up/Down: Move to top or bottom of a note
Option Up/Down: Move by paragraph. (It moves to the next/previous hard return.)
Command up: Read entire note continuously from top of note
Command Down: Read continuously from current position to end of note
Control: Start and stop reading

Note: When moving by line with Quick Nav off, it places the cursor in the same position on the new line as it was on the old line. When moving by line with the rotor, it places the cursor at the end or beginning of the line, depending on whether you are moving forward or backward.

Braille Navigation

All the standard ways to control an iOS device with your refreshable Braille keyboard will work with AccessNote. Please refer to your user documentation for that information. With Braille keyboards, you can control the VoiceOver rotor for navigation, and you have the options of navigating by character, word, or line. You can also use the R chord for reading continuously and the P-chord for pausing/restarting.
We have also created the following custom controls that combine a braille letter with dot 8 for reading/navigating a document:
F plus Dot 8: launch the Find search bar
Dot 3 plus Dot 8: cycle backwards through search results after a Find has been performed
Dot 6 plus Dot 8: cycle forwards through search results after a Find has been performed
A plus Dot 8: Move to top of note
Z plus Dot 8: Move to bottom of document
These commands work only when your braille display is in grade 1/un-contracted braille mode. The end of this document has a full list of customized braille commands.

Refreshable braille displays with cursor routing keys allow you to move directly to a specific character for editing.

Unfortunately, when giving the command to read continuously, the Braille does not refresh to follow along with VoiceOver. Although that was the case with all iOS note apps we investigated, we will work on ways to improve that situation with subsequent releases.

The Action Button

As of version 1.1 of AccessNote, an "Action" Button appears in the navigation bar when a note is open. This button brings up a menu of actions that can be performed on a note. Some of these actions could previously only be done using a custom keyboard command on a wireless QWERTY or braille keyboard, and some of them are new to AccessNote. You can also access this menu in the All Notes screen by scrolling to a note and performing a "double-tap and hold" gesture. The menu items are:

  • "Find in Note" brings up the tool for searching for text in your note.
  • “Toggle Favorite” adds and removes the current note from your list of favorites.
  • "E-mail as text" will create a new Mail message with the text of your note in the body of the e-mail message.
  • "E-mail as attachment" will create a new Mail message with the note attached to the message.
  • "Print" will bring up a dialog to print the text of your note if you have an AirPrint-compatible printer connected. AirPrint allows for wireless printing from Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices.
  • "Rename" will allow you to rename your note.
  • "Delete" will allow you to delete the note. Note: this action replaces the previous method for deleting notes used in the initial release of AccessNote. Previously, to delete a note, you had to highlight it with VoiceOver, perform a double tap and hold gesture on the touchscreen, then confirm the deletion.
  • "Cancel" will cancel the Action menu and return you to your note.

Searching Notes

To perform a Find from the All Notes screen, type your search string into the search bar and either press the “Enter” key on your keyboard or activate the “Search” button on the On Screen keyboard. Once you have activated the search, the notes containing your search string will appear below the search field. Activating one of the notes listed will take you into the note with the Find search bar open and your search on the All Notes screen entered into the search field.

When you perform a Find in a note through either the Action menu or by using a keystroke on your QWERTY keyboard (Command + f) or Braille display(dot 8 + f), you will be presented with a search field located directly below the “Action” button and the button which toggles Review Mode. Directly to the right of the search field are the “Clear Text” and "Cancel” buttons. Once you type your search string you can submit by pressing “Return” on your keyboard or braille display, or by activating the “Search” button on the On Screen keyboard. You will be taken to the first instance of your search string and the search field will remain so that you can quickly navigate to other instances of your search string using any of the following methods:

  • "Next" and "Previous" buttons, which appear when the search bar is open, at the bottom of the screen or above the On Screen keyboard.
  • The keystrokes "Command + comma" or "Command + period" move previous and next, respectively.
  • When focused in the note text field, three finger swipe upwards to move forward in the search results and three finger swipe downwards to move backward through search results.

When you cycle between search results, your cursor is moved to the beginning of your search string. The words surrounding your search string will be read as you cycle between search results. When you have located the search result that you were searching for, you can close the search bar by activating the “Cancel“ button. Searches can be performed with Review Mode activated or deactivated.

Instances When VoiceOver and Editing Are Not in Sync

Unfortunately, when you are using commands to navigate a file, there are a couple instances when your insertion point for editing is not in sync with what VoiceOver is reading. You can touch the iOS device's screen on a particular line to bring editing back in sync. You can also do a Find command for a particular word to bring the editing back in sync. Here are the instances when editing is not in sync: When using a command to read continuously, the editing cursor is still at the point it was before you gave the command. When navigating by page, the editing cursor does not follow along, and again stays where it was before you gave the command to move by page.

Reading in Review Mode

At the top of each note is a button for Review Mode. Review Mode is for reading a note without worrying about making any changes, perhaps when cramming before a test or reviewing a meeting agenda. Because there is no editing in review mode, keyboards are disabled, and you use standard iOS gestures on the device itself for navigating the document. You also have the option of tilting the device to switch from note to note, and the tilt sensitivity can be adjusted in AccessNote Settings.

Known bugs

The On Screen keyboard sometimes appears even when connected to a keyboard. If it is a problem, the eject key on QWERTY keyboards or 1-4-6-chord on braille keyboards gets rid of it.

With large notes exceeding about 100 kilobytes (kB) in size, you may experience a significant lag in the performance of AccessNote, especially when performing a Find command.

Custom QWERTY Commands

All of these keys in conjunction with the Command key perform the function:

C: Create new note
R: Rename note
T: Speak note title
F: Find
Comma ‘,’: Cycle backwards through the results of a Find
Period ‘.’: Cycle forwards through the results of a Find
J: Go to previous note
K: Go to next note
S: Read selected text
M: Mark note as favorite

Custom Braille Commands

Note: Your braille display has to be in grade one/un-contracted braille to use customized braille key commands. These braille letters in conjunction with dot 8 perform the function:

A: Move to top of note
Z: Move to bottom of note
F: Find forward
Dot 3: Cycle backwards through the results of a Find
Dot 6: Cycle forwards through the results of a Find
C: Read selected text
K: Mark as favorite
N: Next note
P: Previous note
R: Rename note
T: Add new note

Importing BRF Files

We have implemented very limited initial support for BRF files in AccessNote 1.2. It is possible to import files with the extension .brf, which will appear the same as notes with the extension .txt in the list of files on the All Notes screen. These files require a Braille display to be read, since they will not be read correctly by VoiceOver. We don’t recommend editing imported BRF files because iOS interprets output from Braille keyboards as text and not BRF symbols.

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